"Looks like I'll be spending more time around here for the next few weeks…" Harry trailed off as he read a letter delivered by Ministry owl. "I've been reassigned to Auror training after last Tuesday's spill down that flight of stairs with those stunning spells." He felt a mild twinge of guilt. Harry technically lived at this apartment with his now-dating best friends, Hermione and Ron, but was gone most of the time on his Auror missions. He felt like an intruder when he was home, staying only long enough to sleep, shower and head back to his job .
"'S not a bad thing, mate," Ron mumbled as he chewed on toast. Ron was not a morning person, and this morning had made it all the worse; he had awoken to the owl mistakenly dropping Harry's work letter on his own head. "Might be grown now, but it will be like the old days. Maybe even play a pickup game of quidditch this week, yeah?"
Harry chuckled. "When's the last time you were on a broom, Ron? I might be flying circles around you – never mind chucking bludgers your way." He shuffled over to make his own toast and looked up sharply. "Where's Hermione this morning, anyway? I expect she'll make a big fuss over this whole 'getting myself hurt again' thing."
Ron shrugged. "The office, probably. Sounded to me like there was new legislation about elf relations or something, but she was talking while the Cannons match was on WWN the other night. Well, I ought to be getting off to work before I get myself off missions for a week. Magical law enforcement doesn't take care of itself. See you, Harry." With that, Ron swallowed the last of his toast and walked to the living room, throwing a pinch of Floo powder into the fire and muttering "Magical Law Enforcement Squad Office."
Harry watched Ron disappear and thought to himself. He was supposed to be on training today, but they didn't have any training sessions scheduled until Wednesday. He knew that Hermione would probably be late and he was never much for Ron's style of tidiness, so he decided to make himself useful as third flatmate and do some cleaning spells. "Scourgify! Scourgify!" He shouted the spells while walking through each room, pointing his wand at different spaces. "Well, that took five minutes, then," he said, speaking aloud to himself. This was a new thing for him – not busy, just time to kill. "Maybe a shower is in order," he muttered to no one in particular as he headed back to his room.
Thirty minutes later, Harry was showered, had made himself proper and was wandering the loaded-down bookshelves of the small flat. He knew Hermione had amassed quite a collection and figured some of the defense books might come in handy; he'd read and referred to his own defense collection so often, the pages were creased and marked.
"Ah!" he said, pulling down his choice – "Banishing the Baddest" by Maxius Fletchley – and flipped through. Hermione's neatly written notes on every page made it almost impossible to read the actual spellwork, but he couldn't help but smile. "Oh, Hermione." It was just like his friend to make a book unreadable by fastidious note-taking while memorizing each line. Wedging the book back into its tight-fitting spot on the shelf, he decided to go out, grab lunch and wander London. It had been quite a while since he'd spent any time in the city, so he might as well enjoy his day.
He was just smiling to himself about his day after returning to the flat, when he heard the rustle of paper bags and keys as someone walked in.
"Harry? Ron told me you were here…" Hermione trailed off as she ducked her head into Harry's open door. "Oh, there you are. I brought home a few groceries, I figured we likely have no food in the house. It was Ron's turn to buy groceries, but I'm sure he forgot again." Hermione sighed and walked back into the kitchen to put away the food, and Harry decided he should help.
"So, are you going to tell me why you're grinning madly? Or should I just assume that, like every other mad grin, this has something to do with a girl?" Hermione looked smug as she put away the orange juice. "No, wait, let me guess: the famous Boy Who Lived has been kissed again by Cho Chang?", she teased him, giggling.
"Oh, come off it, Hermione. Cho was ages ago." He wasn't ready to tell her she was right about the girl, at least. "How's work?" Harry tried to look genuinely curious as he asked.
Hermione brightened. "Work is going well! It's a madhouse this week as we prepare elf testimony for next week's presentation to the Wizengamot, but I can't complain – it's been a goal for years, now, to be able to present." She pointedly looked back at Harry. "But I think you've got something just as big that you're hiding from me – what have you been doing today?"
Harry decided to say it – he wasn't sure why he hesitated every time, but telling Hermione about his newest date always seemed awkward. "Well, do you remember Susan Bones?" She nodded, inviting him to continue. "I met her today at The Leaky Cauldron when I decided to stop and get some lunch. She seemed so excited to see me, and I was so antsy to have something to do – I-asked-her-out." The last four words seem to spill out of him as fast as he could will himself to say them. He added awkwardly, "for tonight."
Hermione paused as if she was considering something, then grinned. "Well I'm sure it will be a wonderful date – wait, she did say yes, right?" Harry elbowed her, teasingly.
"Of course she said yes. Who could turn down The Chosen One?" At that, Hermione rolled her eyes and plastered a stiff grin on her face. Harry turned to put away some eggs and smiled to himself.
She broke the silence with an awkward joke. "I do hope your date with her is lovely. I was hoping Ron meant you'd have stuck around for dinner more often since you're home, but I suppose it will be me and the microwave for dinner again." She grinned, but as Harry spun back around, he didn't see much joy in her grin. He felt sadness for her. Hermione shouldn't have to be alone.
"Oh, I had no idea Ron worked late. I think you understand me if I say… well, he just doesn't seem the kind." Harry was surprised about Ron working late, considering Ron was the first to skive off of homework and extra research. He joked to Hermione, "It's okay, though – I'll make sure to bring some leftovers home for you." He winked and headed out of the kitchen to get ready. Why did he feel so bad for Hermione after feeling so happy about his date with Susan?
Harry knocked quickly on the door to Susan's flat. He felt bad that he was running late, but dates weren't a part of his schedule, usually, and he had underestimated the time it would take him to smooth out his messy hair. He still hadn't been successful at that, but he had to leave, anyway.
He heard the lock being turned, and suddenly, a very gorgeous Susan was standing in front of him. He smiled and was able to say "Wow—" before she grabbed his hand.
"You're late – not very punctual for the Chosen One, are you?" She giggled a bit and continued, "I'm sure you had some restaurant you wanted to take me to, but I'm ready for some fun. Let's go to the new lively pub down the street. It's a muggle pub, so we shouldn't be noticed." Harry nodded his head, still wondering how Susan could manage to look perfect in what seemed to be an ordinary black dress. She interrupted his thoughts. "—so here we are! It's big and noisy, I know."
The hostess seated them at a small table towards the middle, and Harry went to buy drinks. Muggle alcohol was complicated, so he settled for a gin and tonic for himself and Susan chose a lemon martini. They shared small talk about jobs – Susan worked as a healer's aide at St. Mungo's – and shared a couple more rounds. After a bit, the lights went down as the music got louder.
Susan jumped off of her stool. "Ready for a dance, Harry?" Harry had no idea what to say. He wasn't fond of dancing, he didn't know any muggle dances like these people seemed to be doing, and he wasn't as drunk as he thought he would be by now.
"Could you excuse me? I must find the restrooms first – I'll be back." He started off towards the back of the pub, which was still rather empty. Harry assumed it must have been pretty early to start the dancing, and it was a Monday, too. He found the restrooms easily and decided hiding in a stall might be a better choice while he thought through his options. He certainly didn't want to dance, that was for sure.
Swinging open the first stall door, Harry stopped before entering and gasped. Not only was it occupied, but it was occupied by Ron –and someone else, snogging noisily!
Harry thought fast. They didn't seem to notice him, so he closed the door quickly and left the bathroom. He almost couldn't believe it, Ron snogging a girl in a pub. It felt like just a bunch of fragments of thoughts, confusing and unclear, like Harry should be remembering something. Suddenly, like a lightbulb, it popped into his head. Hermione.
Harry found Susan dancing with another guy. He pulled her off to the side and thanked her for the lovely evening, but said he was feeling ill from the evening and needed to head home. She looked sad, but told him goodbye and disappeared back into the crowd. Harry would have felt more offended by this, he thought, if he hadn't needed to disappear from the pub before he was found out.
He sped off as fast as he could for the exit and walked home. All Harry could do was think about what he should tell Hermione, but he didn't want to hurt her. He got more and more irritated with Ron, thinking of his selfishness, always. "He never deserved Hermione's kindness and trust," Harry muttered as he stepped onto his street. But should he dare tell her what he saw and risk being the one to hurt her right now? He had no idea.
Trying to shake off his anger, he walked into the flat. He found Hermione curled up reading a book in the living room, and sat down in a chair across from her.
"Well, you look rather miffed. Did your date not go well?" Hermione sleepily asked as she set down the book. Harry couldn't look quite at her.
"It was about as good as it could have been, I guess. Susan decided a quick supper wasn't worth the time and took me out dancing at a muggle pub instead. I wasn't nearly drunk enough to dance, and I'm starving." Harry finally looked at Hermione, who was clearly stifling a giggle. "Anyway, I'd better find something to eat before I head off to bed."
"Well, I made soup for supper. There is plenty for you, as long as you get to it before Ron gets home, if you'd like." She smiled up at him as he stood up.
Harry responded, "Thanks, Hermione. You're a lifesaver." He went to change into lounge clothing, grabbed a bowl of soup and returned to the living room. He joked, "What have you been up to while I've been having the time of my life?" Still, he had trouble meeting her eyes. He couldn't figure out why – he wasn't the one who'd cheated on her.
Hermione hesitated a little before starting to speak carefully. "Well, honestly – I was wondering how Ron and I stay together. He works late always, and I go into the office so early. We are on two different planets lately – he never listens, never wants to talk." Hermione wiped a tear from her eye. "I'm starting to wonder if he wants to be in a relationship."
Managing to stammer out the words "Why wouldn't he, Hermione? You are wonderful," Harry lapsed back into his thoughts. How in the world would he ever be able to break his best friend's heart? The thought alone made his face fall, and Hermione took note.
"So sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to bore you with relationship troubles. I think maybe I'm better suited to talking to a different friend about this, since you're so close with Ron." Hermione smiled a sad smile, then reached to pick up the book again. Harry decided it was time to tell her the truth.
"Hermione. I think I should tell you something about your relationship, actually." He stopped, thinking of the best way to break the news. "I.. might have run into Ron tonight. He was at the muggle pub, and he wasn't alone. I ran into him in a bathroom with another girl." Harry couldn't bring his eyes up to meet hers. The idea of delivering such bad news to such a good girl like Hermione, it was heartbreaking.
Neither of them had heard the door open during Harry's recount of the night. Ron stood behind Hermione, frozen, staring at Harry.
Ron started moving towards Harry. "Sho you tink I'm gonna lert you tell—"Ron hiccupped, then promptly forgot what he had been saying. Hermione stood up and whipped around to face him.
"Ronald Weasley, you will NOT come here drunk and—" She was pushed out of the way and back into her chair by Ron. He had an angry gleam in his eyes and swung his fist towards Harry. Of course, drunk Ron wasn't much of a match for the Seeker who could dodge anything – he missed and hit a bookshelf. Ron swore loudly and dropped to the floor, passed out, as Hermione sobbed quietly.
"Ha-Harry. I am so sorry you had to be a part of that." She wiped her tears, then got up and started to walk towards toward her bedroom. Harry couldn't think of letting her be alone. He grabbed her hand and apparated to the now empty Grimmauld Place.
Harry never spent much time here – he wasn't in London much, and when they had moved to London to start work, Ron didn't think much of living somewhere owned by Harry. Or, as Ron had put it at the time, he didn't want to be "any more indebted to Harry, since he'd already saved the entire wizard world." Still, old Kreacher kept up with the place and had freedom to come and go as he wished.
Hermione peered around. "Don't you think he'd guess that we're here?" she asked, timid. Harry patted her arm.
"No, I don't think he will. I'm sure he will be passed out for the rest of the night." He started a fire in the fireplace and grabbed a coupe bottles of butterbeer from the kitchen. "We could also cast some privacy shields if you're too worried about him. Not that I blame you, I don't want to get a fist to the face, personally." He gave her a half smile as he handed her a bottle and sat down on the sofa.
"Oh, Harry. I must confess, I'm not entirely heartbroken at losing Ron." She looked up at him, a confusing, almost happy look on her face. Was she implying something? His thoughts were soon interrupted as she continued, "I guess part of me knew he wasn't working late. Not like Ron at all, and I had my suspicions."
Harry wasn't sure what to say. He finally managed a few words: "I didn't want to be the one to break you up. You have always been too kind, too patient and too smart for both Ron and me, Hermione, and I didn't want to lose your friendship by hurting you." He looked at his feet. "I was worried you would think that I would choose Ron's friendship over yours. That was a bit irrational, maybe." He chuckled softly. "You would think the Chosen One would be a little more clever, but I guess that's why I always had you with me during the war."
Sighing, Hermione grimaced slightly at his mention of the war. "Harry, you're the only friend I've likely got left. Ginny's not going to want to hear about my breakup or her brother as a cheat and a liar, even if she doesn't want to support his misdeeds." She curled up on the couch, opposite his end, and stared into the fire.
"I would have fought him for you, you know. You are my best friend, you deserve no less."
"Harry, that's lovely, but fighting isn't going to solve anything." Hermione looked frustrated and sad as she glanced at her empty bottle. "I have nowhere to live. Fuck." Harry's eyes grew round at Hermione swearing; he thought she must be getting pissed if she's letting swears slip.
He thought fast. "So live here, with me." Hermione gave a hollow laugh; Harry wondered why his offer was so preposterous. "No, really," he insisted.
Hermione gave him a sharp look. "Harry, my relationship ruined your date tonight. I'd rather not let my presence interrupt any more potential dates." Harry had to grin at this – she had nowhere to live, but would rather turn him down than stay at his house. Always thinking of others, that Hermione. He admired her kindness for a few more seconds.
"Hermione, I like living with you. You clean up after yourself. And we both know, it's just temporary. We're both rather homeless, since I don't live here usually, either." Harry went to the kitchen to ask Kreacher to make sure a guest room was prepared for his friend, and came back to see Hermione sobbing alone on the couch. His heart hurt at the sight.
He went over to her and put his arms around her, patting her bushy hair. He whispered to her, "Hermione, I'm really so sorry. Maybe it was a one off, maybe Ron didn't mean to…" He hated saying those words with how angry he was at Ron, so he left the rest unsaid.
Looking up at his face, aglow from the fire crackling away in the fireplace, she simply said, "He's not the reason I'm crying. It's complicated." She tried pulling away from Harry, but he held on to her even more tightly. "It's not even about Ron anymore, Harry." Her careless tone sounded impatient, and he couldn't figure out where she was going with this. "I stupidly believed - well, it doesn't matter now."
She lifted up her head. "Can you show me to my room now? I'd love to stay tonight, at least." She had no more tears streaming down her face, but an unreadable expression as Harry helped her to her feet. They had just reached her room when the neighbors started playing old big-band music, blasting through the walls.
Harry raised his wand to put a silencing charm on the wall, but strangely, Hermione pulled his arm down. With a small grin, she stood in front of him and asked if he would dance with her. Harry could have yelled yes, it felt so right, but could not remember how to waltz. Instead, he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close.
She smelled so good. He closed his eyes as they swayed back and forth. Why did this feel so good? He would gladly dance all night with Hermione, if that's what she wanted. He never wanted this dance, this song, to end. He buried his face into her hair as her head rested on his shoulder, and she started to hum along with the music. Finally, the song ended and so did the neighbors' interruption – she blushed as she pulled away. She muttered "Sorry" and turned around to climb into bed.
He knew she wanted him to leave, but he couldn't. He stayed motionless and asked why she would be sorry for a simple dance. Her answer shocked him.
"Harry, I am apologizing for wasting your time." She looked sad and tired. "You don't even dance with your dates, why should you dance with me?" Shaking her head, she barely uttered the last sentence in a voice he could hear. "I am not your kind of girl, anyway."
"What does that mean, Hermione? Of course I'd dance with you, you are my best friend—" He stopped. He realized what she meant, too late, and wasn't sure what should come next. She was just his best friend's girlfriend a few hours ago, yet he never hesitated when he said, "Do you mean you want to be my girl, Hermione?"
He watched her freeze in surprise, as she blushed. He guessed she was not expecting him to say that so soon, so suddenly. She slowly slid under the sheets and blankets, considering every word in her mind. Finally, she looked up at him, straight into his eyes. Whispering softly, she said, "I've wanted that for awhile now, but I don't think you feel the same. I'd have never asked you to betray Ron, nor did I think I should betray him either. But I would be lying if I didn't say that your revelation about Ron tonight made my heart skip a beat – for you, Harry." She turned off the lamp, attempting to end the conversation.
No, he thought. Don't let her go to bed alone and sad, twice over. He wasn't sure what to say, but he climbed into the small bed beside Hermione. She gasped at his audacity and turned to face away from him. He thought he could feel her smiling when he wrapped his arms around her and told her not to worry.
Both were exhausted and lay in the silence, resting in the moment. Harry felt too awkward to make any moves on her; he was sure she just needed to be held rather than snogged. Truthfully, he still had trouble putting words to his feelings about her. He wasn't sure when they fell asleep, but he woke up to Hermione kicking his shin accidentally as she crawled across him, yet again swearing. He leaned up and grinned, asking her what could possibly be wrong.
Hermione frowned as she put on shoes across the room. "Harry, it's a Tuesday. I was due at work thirty minutes ago, but I at least need to send an owl that I'll be late. Anyway, thank you for being such a good friend last night. You didn't have to be so kind."
Harry squinted at her in the bright sunlight. "So, we're just friends, hmm? Guess I'd better keep that date with Susan this evening." She stared at him until he stood up and walked over. He looked in her eyes and kissed her, the softest kiss she'd ever felt. Her knees buckled.
"So, I guess you'll be staying here, then? I'll get your stuff moved today." He smiled warmly at her. "Now, I'm starved. Toast, sausages and eggs sound good?"
She smiled back at Harry. "That sounds wonderful."